How to Summarize

One of the most important skills for any writer (and any active reader!) is summary. You may be familiar with the concept of summary already; writing effective thesis statements and crafting logical transitions require writers to summarize their ideas. Read this article to learn more about the art of summary. At the end of the article, complete the practice activity to summarize Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's story "The Five Orange Pips", which you read at the end of unit 3.

How to Summarize

Summarizing is a critical study skill and, fortunately, one that is easily learned. A summary condenses an original piece of writing and contains only the most important information. The thesis of the original work should be very clearly indicated, and minor details are not usually included. In this way, a summary focuses on the major points made throughout the original.

A summary is not a critique of a work. Do not include your own ideas, opinions, or criticisms when writing a summary.

The length of a summary will vary depending on the length of the original. If your instructor does not tell you how long your summary should be, try to make it about one-fifth to one-quarter the length of the original work.

Remember that you must put everything in your own words and use your own sentence structure. If you choose to use direct quotations, even if only one or two distinctive words, you must place quotation marks around them. Plagiarism is unacceptable at any time. The proper use of quotation marks and the proper acknowledgment of other people's words and ideas is often difficult to keep in mind, but its importance cannot be overemphasized.

Follow the steps outlined below to write a successful summary:

  • Read the original carefully. You may find that you must read the piece two, three, or even four times in order to understand it completely and accurately. Try highlighting the main ideas or taking notes as you read. Look up any words or phrases you do not understand from the context. The goal here is to have a clear and accurate understanding of the reading as a whole.
  • Now write one sentence that states the main idea or thesis of the entire writing. Typically, you can look carefully at the first and last paragraphs of the original to find the thesis.
  • Next, break the original down into related paragraphs or sections. Sometimes the original will already have subheadings you can use.
  • Then write a one or two sentence summary for each group of related paragraphs. These sentences should reflect the main idea of each section clearly and accurately.
  • Create an outline using the sentences you just wrote. First, write down the thesis. Then, list the main idea sentences for each section you identified, keeping them in the original order.
  • You're now ready to begin writing your summary. Be sure to be reader-friendly. Start with a summary introduction, which includes the name of the article or book, the author, and, if appropriate, the date and name of the journal, magazine, or newspaper in which the article appeared. 
  • Your summary introduction should also include your statement of the overall thesis of the original. Remember, this statement should be in your own words.
  • After the summary introduction is the body of your summary. Start with the sentences you wrote for each group of related paragraphs. Build upon these sentences to create the summary's body. Focus on the major points of the original.
  • In your final draft, eliminate repetitions and generally make your summary coherent. Use transitional words or phrases, such as "moreover", "in addition", "next", to create proper flow and to show connections between the ideas of the original. Your final product must read smoothly as well as reflect the information in the original accurately.
  • Check your summary against the original. Did you cover all of the important points? Did you state the thesis? Did you use your own words?
  • Lastly, check your summary for grammar, spelling, and punctuation. If you used direct quotations, did you use quotation marks?

Keep in mind this basic goal: Your summary should give the reader a clear and concise understanding of the original without them having to read the original. If the reader needs to look at the original in order to understand your summary, try again.



Write a summary of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Five Orange Pips, which you read earlier. Remember to include enough information so the reader can see that you understand the material, and can identify the key plot points while leaving out unnecessary details. When you finish, check your work against the guide to responding.

Source: Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges,
Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Last modified: Friday, January 8, 2021, 1:43 PM